Monthly Archives: October 2016
The Mountain in My Shoe – Louise Beech
The Last Word Review
From the author of the highly acclaimed How to be Brave, Louise Beech is back with her second novel The Mountain in My Shoe. Anyone who has read Louise’s first novel are going to really enjoy this one just as much.
Louise Beech is one of the new writing talents that are writing some of the most exquisite novels of recent times. How she writes her characters into her stories that make them so real and life like. When a book plays on your mind and emotions for days after you have finished reading it then you have succeeded in writing one very special book for the reader. Louise Beech has done just that with The Mountain in My Shoe you really have a strong relationship with the characters in her latest novel although only released at the end of September it is already receiving very high praise.
This is a story primarily about three people. These people are lost and damaged by circumstance. We meet Bernadette who is married and her husband keeps Bernadette under his thumb, we know the type. We meet Conor a ten-year-old boy who life is like the proverbial tennis ball being bounced around from Care home to care and then foster care. Conor has no balance in his life as he does not know what each day will bring let along where he will end up next. There are just a few things in Conors life that have any meaning to him. One of them is Muhammad Ali the reason for this is plain as you begin to understand Conors story. Bernadette is a volunteer friend through Befriend for Life scheme and has been assigned to Conor.
For Bernadette the time has come to make a decision on her husband and her loveless marriage but he does not return home from work that evening and then a telephone call tells Bernadette that Connor has gone missing and he has not arrived at his foster home after school. But that is not all. Conor’s ‘lifebook’ has also gone missing. Conor’s ‘lifebook’ make for painful and heartbreaking reading. It is his life story from care home to care home. The book is punctuated with passages from Connor’s ‘lifebook’. For young Conor as much as life has let him down he is a real character and one that you instantly warm to and there is humour within his story. The fact that her husband has not returned home, Bernadette does not show any concern, she is more concerned for Conor is there a link to both her husband and Conor’s disappearance?
The setting for Louise’s latest is around Hull and the sights and sounds come through the story just as much as the twists and turns of book that reads like a thriller. Your heart aches for a happy ending for both two souls who deserve not only stability but happiness. Then when you reach the end the story and its characters will linger deep inside you for some time after. To put this book on the bookshelf will not put the story to the back of your mind of this you can be assured.
It is beautifully written and told it is heartfelt and at time sad. But read it and see for yourself why I hold Louise Beech in such high acclaim as a writer not just for today but for tomorrow and now look forward to see what she comes up with next. Outstanding.
Thank you to Karen at Orenda Books for the advanced review copy. The Mountain in My Shoe by Louise Beech is published by Orenda Books and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
The Mountain in My Shoe – The Official Blog Tour 2016
Chaos – Patricia Cornwell
The Last Word Review
The twenty-fourth thriller starring Dr Kay Scarpetta from the pen of the bestselling Patricia Cornwell has arrived and fans of the million selling author will be delighted with the latest offering Chaos.
I recall reading the very first in the series Postmortem all those years ago that stars the super forensic expert Dr Kay Scarpetta and all these years later book number 24 landed with on my desk. And so it was to a weekend of reading Cornwell’s latest that snared me from page one.
The story is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts it is her home and the place of her work. It is an early autumn and the heat is intense so much so a twenty-six- year old woman Elisa Vandersteel is found dead alongside her bicycle. At first it is believed she was struck by lightning. For Dr Scarpetta she was talking with the very same young woman just a few hours before. And so the investigation begins but there is more to this story that you believe. Scarpetta’s husband has been receiving strange telephone calls that apparently are from Interpol. Dr Kay Scarpetta is being targeted but by who and why? Who is behind this and just wanted happened to the young woman cycling along the river, it was a clear sunny day and lighting could not have struck her, but then again what caused the smell of burning coming from the body?
The story is engrossing and moves quickly along at a pace and the way the characters are drawn into the storyline. This is a crime that needs to be solved and quickly as Scarpetta is being harassed by someone calling himself Tailend Charlie and there are a series of poems that arrive it is time to call for reinforcements and this includes her niece Lucy but this Tailend Charlie is one slippery fish of a character Scarpetta just cannot get close enough to him. Adding to drama Scarpetta’s Dorothy has arrived to hear her give a talk. The two have a frosty relationship. But why has she chosen to come to the lecture of all times now?
Chaos may not be Cornwell’s best of the twenty-four thrillers but it still had me hooked and there are a number of twists to keep you in suspense to the very end.
Put the cat our, lock the doors and switch off your phone pour a large glass of wine settle down with the ultimate crime writer.
Thank you to Hayley Camis at Harper Collins for the advanced review copy.
Chaos by Patricia Cornwell is published by Harper Collins and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
CHAOS – The Official Blog Tour 2016
A Suitable Lie – Michael J. Malone
The Last Word Review
When you pick up a book and within the first few pages you are instantly absorbed into a novel that stops you leaving the house on a Saturday and you don’t leave the book until you have read from cover to cover you know that you have just read one of THE books of the year. A Suitable Lie is that book. A story that is so incredibly powerful and one book that I urge you to read as soon as you can.
Andy has had to bring up his son alone after his wife died during the birth of their child. He is the sort of guy everyone really likes and you will like Andy when you get to know him. He does not believe he will ever find love again and so he takes every day as it comes and brings up Pat alone. You just never know when love will appear, and one day for Andy is happens by chance and meets Anna and he falls head over heels for Anna and the two fall for each other. The perfect couple in fact. Anna really likes his son and things look really happy for them. But there is something just not right here and you feel it burning into your very soul that something is coming. Andy and Anna marry despite some uncertainty from some close family.
The story then hits you like a heavy weight boxers left hook. You are floored by the story that explodes into life starting on the couples wedding night and from this moment be prepared you will not put the book down, so cancel every plan you have made as you will not want to stop reading. As a reviewer I thought I had read everything, stories that have totally broken me and left me in tears but from this moment I have to say I feared not just for Andy but for his son Pat. They both deserve some happiness and sometimes we are guilty of hoping and clinging to an opportunity of happiness that comes our way. So Now I was not just worried for the two but it went far beyond that. Their story was in freefall completely out of control. I was yelling at Andy from inside of me to just get out and quickly. How the guy that we have come to know with so much self-pride and humour just fade away.
This is a story of abuse and the sort of abuse that goes on behind closed doors, the sort of abuse that makes you sick. Disturbing and shocking and at times I was left reeling. I thought I had read everything. I was wrong. How is this story going to end? I was at times shaking with fear and rage. I wanted an ending that saw some light at the end of the darkest tunnel.
There were times I felt uneasy with the issues that A Suitable Lie raises. But this is a gripping novel so superbly written that it really is difficult to leave. This is a psychological thriller that deals with an extremely difficult storyline but you will love the story of that I am sure. It has become one of my top four books of 2016 instantly. It is a not to be missed novel.
I am not going to give away any clues as to the outcome of this story that would be both wrong and disrespectful but I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.
Thank you to Karen at Orenda Books for the advanced review copy.
A Suitable Lie by Michael J. Malone is published by Orenda Books and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
A Suitable Lie – The Official Bl.og Tour 2016
Nightmare in Berlin – Hans Fallada
The Last Word Review
Some years ago I read Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada and this became a book that never left me. Now at last comes the first English translation of Nightmare in Berlin written at a time of real struggle personally for Fallada whose real name is Rudolf Ditzen.
At the wars end Berlin was a city devastated not just by the round the clock bombing by the allies but also by the Russian forces that invaded the city to inflict the final defeat of the Nazis.
Fallada chose to stay in Germany at the time the Nazis came to power, he was then they pressurised him to write anti-Semitic novels. For Fallada though he was thrown into an asylum which under the Nazis was not a good thing to happen to anyone who disagreed with their policy. At the wars end he wrote Nightmare in Berlin and then Alone in Berlin but sadly he died at the age of 54 before either was published.
For Nightmare in Berlin can be and almost certainly is novel based on his own life. Here we trace the life of Doctor Doll the Russians have now just defeated the Nazis and the sheer disaster and chaos that has left Germany a country in total ruins. For Doctor Doll like the author himself he had an addiction problem, Doll was not a likeable character either in the story one that was totally opposed the Nazis but what exactly did he do to oppose them during the war. Now like many there is guilt on the shoulders as the allies now occupy their homeland. Many with links to the Nazis and the Gestapo are busy hiding uniforms even to the point of throwing them into the garden of Dr Doll and his younger wife Alma causing his immediate arrest by the Red Army to explain why there was an SS uniform in his garden.
Imagine trying to live in a devastated country were the outside world shows little pity for you and now the Red Army actually despises you as well. For Dr Doll just like the author is now the Mayor of his town and is now responsible for cracking down on those Nazis still living there who thrived while others starved. You become acutely aware that this novel is become more and more an autobiography of Fallada’s life at this time.
Life becomes incredibly difficult for Dr Doll and Alma and they soon become aware that there is very little they can do so they set off back to their home of Berlin a city totally in ruins. Now life for the two is set to get even worse. Alma’s addiction is now taking over yet despite the fact they have nowhere to live they both seek to feed their addiction and life is now overtaking them both. Despite their problems I showed real pity for Alma she is gritty and at times rather funny at the beginning she was brave.
For every German at this time life was about survival and work about making sure that you had enough to eat as the struggle to rebuild shattered cities, towns and also lives. Days were long and hard and there was no escape from the road that lay before Dr Doll and Alma and every German citizen.
A country out of control run by a group despotic leaders for Fallada it was his home a home he loved and chose to stay and in his own way try to survive to tell his stories despite his own weaknesses and mistakes. Fallada is a truly great writer one I greatly admire and for Dr Doll sitting under that tree with just the breeze making the leaves rustle peace had come at last. Peace.
I have waited a long time for this book to become translated into English and it will take pride of place alongside Alone in Berlin and also among some of the great writers.
Thank you to Sarah Braybrooke for the advanced review copy.
Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada. Published by Scribe UK and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Guest Post – J.J. Patrick
Today I am delighted to welcome J.J. Patrick as a guest on my blog talking about his writing and about himself also his book Forever Completely which was published in September by Cynefin Road.
About J.J. Patrick:
James once did a good thing. He now lives a quiet life and is happy with his lot, which is all that really matters. He’s been compelled to write ever since he can remember.
J.J. Patrick — or JP to those who know he’s nothing but trouble — was born in the New Forest and did most of his growing up in Derbyshire.
He served as a police officer for ten years, resigning from New Scotland Yard having acted as a whistle-blower, kicking off a parliamentary inquiry into the manipulation of crime figures by the police. He received open praise at the highest levels for his integrity.
At a bit of a loose end — largely being seen as an unemployable risk to skeletons in closets everywhere — he opened a pub. Wrestling a road closure, along with his own demons and ghosts, he was bankrupted and lost everything in the spring of 2016.
If you knew him, you’d say that the broken pieces fit together much better nowadays.
Should you wish to keep up with his often ludicrous and frenetic antics, you can find him on Twitter as @j_amesp
Forever Completely is an unapologetically unique debut by J.J. Patrick, set in a haphazard world of love, psychopathic primates, hodgepodge witchcraft and the apocalyptic end of mankind.
He doesn’t matter. That’s how he feels, writing a bitter note on a Saturday morning. He’s lost his relationship, gone bankrupt and lives in a drug infested sink estate…until he’s shown a vision of the end of the world by two ancient deities.
Join a lovelorn mess of a man as he is forced to face up to what he deserves and save the Earth, with the help of a nice old dear and her collection of eye-popping tracksuits…
“A brilliantly haphazard, broken glory all of its own. Forever Completely is utterly unashamed of itself…”
“I can’t compare this book to anything because I have never read anything like this before. Witches, the apocalypse, love, hate and redemption. I don’t usually read fantasy fiction, but the author makes an unbelievable world so believable that I didn’t want the book to end”
“This deserves to sell a million and be made into a film, top drawer stuff. Reading it was the literary equivalent of smoking a joint, drinking five pints of scrumpy, listening to early Pink Floyd with Syd Barret while watching Saving Private Ryan.”
Forever Completely is available worldwide now. You can find it listed on all online retailers and distributors in hardcover, and in all ebook formats including Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Booktopia…and everywhere else.
About Life and Writing:
J.J. Patrick was serving as a police officer, working as a specialist analyst for Scotland Yard, when he uncovered the mass manipulation of crime figures by the police service, to make it look as if serious offences including rape were reducing. Despite being disciplined and threatened with dismissal for raising concerns he approached Parliament and sparked the Public Administration Select Committee inquiry into crime statistics. As a result, police recorded crime figures were stripped of their status as a trusted national statistic and the Home Secretary and Prime Minister made commitments to improving the protections for whistleblowers. In the final parliamentary report he received the highest possible praise: “We are indebted to PC Patrick for his courage in speaking out, in fulfilment of his duty to the highest standards of public service, despite intense pressures to the contrary”. He retired from policing in May 2014.
After a year of struggling to find work, he managed to privately pull together some money and took on a dilapidated public house in Essex. The building was first constructed in the 1700s had been in steep decline for many years but he took on the renovation work himself, transforming the building inside and out, working gruelling eighteen hour days before opening the doors on the new pub in April 2015. However, all was not to be plain sailing. Due to the years of adverse pressure his marriage collapsed in September 2015 and then, in October, Essex Highways closed the road on which the pub stood for four months and the business simply could not survive. In March 2016 he closed the doors for the last time and was bankrupted on March the 17th. He lost his business and his home in one day. He was left broken and had his heart broken not long after.
With help from his father, he managed to secure a bedsit in Colchester and found work as a gardener. Talking about this period, he says: “It’s a bedsit, and not a good one. I can’t describe the horror of lying in the dark, listening to the sounds of an alcoholic Scot screaming and urinating on the floor directly above, leaving you to wait for his bodily fluids to seep through the plaster and drip into your space. Between the 29th of March and the 28th of May this year I was paid £570, out of which I had to pay my phone bill, so I could talk to my kids, and £380 rent for the room. You can’t even get a payday loan when you’re bankrupt and I’d run out of things to sell so I lived on crackers, despite the job being physical, and eventually had to resort to accepting charitable offers from people as the effects of malnutrition set in. I had no body fat at all by May. There comes a time when you take a look around and realise you are fucked. You reside in a hovel, well below the breadline, and you aren’t living. A useless fucking charity case, you’re just looking for a way to survive. There is no near miss, you are either destitute or you’re not. I was and it’s fucking awful”. He has chosen to donate 10% of the proceeds from Forever Completely to charities supporting people in poverty.
James turned to writing as an escape from his surroundings, each day returning from work and sitting until the early hours writing, bleeding at the typewriter in the best tradition of Hemingway as he desperately tried to survive. “Within a week I was staring at the rough draft of Forever Completely, and those 30,000 words saved me. By the end of May the final draft was done and when I tentatively sent the manuscript out to beta readers I started to believe the magic in that story could do more than take me away from my soul-crushing surroundings. More than provide a waking dream. I saw a way out and played my usual game of Kipling’s pitch and toss, one of the reasons I get affectionately referred to as the walking embodiment of If”. There was a desk in his room but no chair, so the whole book was written with James sat on a scraggy sofa, pulled up close the keyboard with two cushions underneath him.
On writing itself he is no less awkward than he was as a police officer. He has clearly defined problems with rules and embraces his inner anarchist at every given opportunity. “Writing FC wasn’t catharsis, not really. It was just survival, plain and simple, and I wouldn’t still be here but for its grace. I certainly can’t say I used it as a device to create order either, the work itself is chaos because life is chaos. Love is chaos. Redemption is chaos. And I’m not exactly famed for obedience or conformity – the chair of the Public Administration Select Committee once described me as ‘Awkward’. My approach to writing is no different really. The internet is awash with reams of sanctimonious shit about writing. Endless rules about what must be done, how you should behave, what you must show and what you must tell. The fact adverbs will bring about the death of your story and end your writing life, by leaving you open to broad ridicule. Don’t say anything other than said, use everything but said. Don’t use was but also shy away from complicated words, simplify your prose. Cut, slash and burn. Don’t over describe but also see show don’t tell, in the first sentence of this paragraph…Avoid the ellipsis at all costs, stick to the Oxford list, and murder your darlings. The cobblers is almost infinite, in the main self-righteous, and, worst of all, utterly meaningless. So my advice is stop worrying about it, sit down, and write. There aren’t ten rules. There aren’t any at all. Everything is subjective, the whole industry – from writing, to editorial, to publishing. One day a story will be great, then a bus will get missed, a cat will die, or someone will feel grumpy, horny, angry – whatever – and the same tale will be in a slush pile. If you are writing to run from people, good. Hide away and build a world you’re happy in because somebody else will be happy there too. If you are writing because you love people, good. Let everyone know why and share it.”
J.J. Patrick refuses to give up, even though he probably should have, and he is never ashamed to say he came close to the rope once or twice when things were at their worst. But he’s still here because of his two children, whom he loves more than anything else and is determined not to stay down for long. His policing and whistle-blowing memoir, The Rest Is Silence, is being released on the 19th of November 2016 – the third anniversary of the parliamentary inquiry and he’s currently writing two more fiction works, due in the spring and summer of 2017.
The Bird Tribunal – Agnes Ravatn
The Last Word Review
The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn a story of a possessive love affair between two people who are thrown together as two people whose own lives are damaged. The book has been excellently translated by Rosie Hedger.
The story is told by Allis Hagtorn in her own words and for Allis who has run away from her own life as a TV presenter and her partner and has sort sanctuary in a remote house close to a fjord. Taking on a job that is very different from the glamorous life as a TV presenter now Allis is a housekeeper and gardener. The owner is something of a strange 44-year-old man called Sigurd Bagge who is surly and at times his mood swings from silent to questioning. Something about Sigurd is not right. Sigurd’s wife is away travelling and he wants help to look after the house and garden. From early on in this psychological thriller something starts to build. This is the ultimate slow burner that you know something is coming but not quite in what form. Meanwhile as the two start to get to know each other something of an obsession starts from Allis towards Sigurd.
The reasons for Allis running away is nothing short of a scandal yet here she is starting something that you know should not be happening to a damaged soul but here is Allis starting an obsession that becomes something more serious as she tells her story. This book will get under your skin as you can feel yourself becoming involved in ‘why are you doing this Allis’ and ‘just why did you run away in the first place’ you just feel yourself saying to the book as you read.
The centre of this story is the home of Sigurd and the never ending feeling of claustrophobia is deeply foreboding, you feel the walls of the story closing around Allis and she tries to get Sigurd to open up and talk to her. Tension is palpable all the way through this thriller to the dramatic closing moments of the story.
I have to admit to being not at all at ease with Allis she seemed to be setting herself up for a trap and sleepwalking into a nightmare scenario. Sigurd is just plain odd a creepy character that you would not want to get too close to. But it seems they were drawn to each other. Possession and obsession. The ultimate car crash was going to happen. I have to commend Rosie Hedger on the translation. Superb.
This is my first Norwegian thriller and another hit for Orenda Books who have found some of the most incredible writers of recent times with more set to come in the future.
This is a gripping thriller although short at just under 200 pages you will consume this gem easily in one sitting on a chilly autumn evening.
The Official Bird Tribunal Blog Tour 2016
The Day I Lost You – Fionnuala Kearney
The Last Word Review
The debut novel by Fionnuala Kearney, You Me and Other People was so well received that I could not resist the chance to review her second novel The Day I Lost You released less than a month ago it is already receiving high praise and now I would like to add mine to the growing list of people who enjoy Fionnuala Kearney’s writing.
Loss and grief are terrible events in anyone’s life and now for Jess she has to contemplate the loss of her daughter Anna who has gone on a skiing trip and is reported missing. The sheer horror that Jess must have gone through at this time. For Jess she has to believe and hope that Anna will be found as Anna’s five-year-old daughter Rose wants her mummy home safe.
So for Jess she must now take responsibility for Rose in the hope Anna will return home soon safe. But soon things take on a twist for Jess and now some of Anna’s past secrets come to the surface. A story of mother/daughter relationships and past secrets. The Day I Lost You is a deeply emotional read from the very start. Kearney’s prose is simply superb as she introduces family characters and those that knew Anna very well into the sad storyline that provide support at a difficult time.
I dare anyone who reads this story not to feel any empathy for Jess as she searches for answers to questions that life itself cannot answer. For Jess her own life ended with Anna’s. The emotion pours out of every page that leaves you bereft and feeling at one with Jess and Rose and even down to Pug. Life’s frailties are all here captured in a story that captures the reader in an incredibly moving family drama.
Sometimes secrets are shared and sometimes secrets are not meant to ever come out, what happens if they do? Here Fionnuala Kearney tries to explore this through her second novel that is a five star read prepare for some unexpected twists and revelations that will shock.
The Day I Lost You is a book crying out to be read and is the perfect autumn weekend read and one I highly recommend.
Thank you to Harper and to Bookbridgr for the advanced review copy.
The Day I Lost You by Fionnuala Kearney is published by Harper and is available now through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Gone Astray – Michelle Davies
The Last Word Review
I am delighted to be kicking off the Official Blog Tour for the Paperback release of Gone Astray the outstanding debut novel by Michelle Davies.
The story behind Gone Astray is that Lesley Kinnock buys a lottery ticket and to Lesley and her husband Mack shock they win and not just win they actually win the jackpot. Suddenly for them and their daughter Rosie their lives will never be the same again. The impact on the lives of the family are immense and they go public with the win and realise that they have to move and now they have to leave some their friends behind.
On her return from a shopping trip Lesley discovers that her 15-year-old daughter has gone missing. Has Rosie wandered off or has she been taken and does this have anything to do with the family winning a lottery jackpot?
The plot for the story is a believable scenario and the characters just so well written into the script. At 451 pages this is no simple crime thriller. The reader is faced with many twists and turns that you may have trouble putting the book down. That’s a warning from this reviewer. For a debut crime novel it is simply superb. Davies writing is one of an accomplished writer with many books behind her not a debut which makes this something rather special. Look out for sub plots that will keep you guessing as to what really is behind Rosie’s disappearance. As for the ending. Incredible. No clues from me and not even an apology. I want you the reader to discover Gone Astray will and the writer Michelle Davies as I have a feeling that we will be hearing more from her in the future.
There are a number of questions that this book leaves you with and for one after reading Gone Astray would you go public after winning a large amount on a lottery?
I have read many crime novels over the years and many have gone on to become cinema blockbusters I rank Gone Astray up there and would make great TV drama.
Michelle has kindly written a piece (below) for this blog about what she has learnt since Gone Astray was first published.
Five things I’ve learned since being published
I wanted to write a crime novel since the age of 12, after my English teacher in my first year at secondary school set our class the task of writing a story with a mystery theme over three chapters. I loved the task, scored top marks in it, and when Mr OW (his full name was Mr Osborne-Williams, but he preferred the abbreviation, as did we) said I had a talent for writing stories, my ambition was set.
Given it was another 32 years before I actually realised it with my first novel, Gone Astray, you won’t be surprised to learn I had a certain level of expectation about what it would be like to be published. So here are five things I’ve learned so far:
* Holding a finished copy of your book for the first time isn’t as amazing as holding your first child, but it comes close. Especially if the gestation period was quadruple that of your pregnancy and at times the delivery was just as painful. Publishers really should provide gas and air for those final stages.
* You will never tire of seeing your novel on a shelf in an ACTUAL BOOKSHOP. Word of caution though: sniffing the pages, stroking the cover, or sobbing tears of joy as you clasp it to your heaving bosom will earn you strange looks and possible arrest.
* Take any advice offered by published writers – they know what they’re talking about. I’ll always be grateful to Colette McBeth, who advised me to finish writing my second novel before the first was published so I’d have the time and head-space to enjoy the moment. I did (my second novel, Wrong Place, is out on 27 February) – and therefore I did.
* Patience is a virtue. Publishing works to roughly an 18-month calendar and I’m used to working on weekly magazines with daily deadlines, so it took a while to get my head around the fact that while I got my book deal for Gone Astray in 2014 it wouldn’t be published until this year. Now I’m totally in sync with it and have the work temperament of a sloth*.
* The crime reading/writing community is the nicest bunch of people you could ever hope to meet. I’ve been overwhelmed by all the online high fives sent my way over the past few months. So it goes without saying that I’m delighted to be on this blog tour for Gone Astray and thank you for all of your support.
* Well, maybe a sloth on speed. In case my magazine commissioning editors are reading this.
Michelle Davies has been writing for magazines for twenty years, including on the production desk at Elle, and as Features Editor of Heat. Her last staff position before going freelance was Editor-at-Large at Grazia magazine and she currently writes for a number of women’s magazines and newspaper supplements. Michelle has previously reviewed crime fiction for the Sunday Express’s Books section.
Michelle lives in London with her partner and daughter and juggles writing crime fiction with her freelance journalism and motherhood. Gone Astray is her first novel.
For more information on Michelle Davies you can visit her website just use the link here: Michelle Davies
The Official Gone Astray Blog Tour 2016
Nicotine – Nell Zink
The Last Word Review
Following on from The Wallcreeper and Mislaid comes the third novel Nicotine by Nell Zink for which in my opinion is her best yet. If you pardon the pun you could well find yourself hooked on Nicotine from the start.
There is something unique and rare about Nell Zink and her writing that I have not seen in any other writer, she is rare and mesmerising and with her third novel you begin to see what she is bringing to the literary world and long may this continue.
The story is unfolding before your very eyes in a matter of a few pages and focuses on Penny just as her father has died. Penny had no ordinary upbringing as a child as the opening pages tell the reader. But now Penny has inherited her father’s house in New Jersey but nothing here is straight forward. The house is occupied by squatters who seem to be fighting for their right to smoke. The house they have given the house a name. ‘Nicotine’ what happens next through the story is one of interest as Penny starts to meet the inhabitants of ‘Nicotine’ and their reason for their protest. Penny starts an emotional love relationship with not just one but a number of the young men who are living in the house and smoking. But then there is Matt she has to consider him as well.
There is great humour in the mind-set of the author it is sharp and at times witty. The story starts in 1985 and fast-forwards to 2016 and is at times somewhat topical. There are moments in Zink’s writing that out of nowhere she will throw something at you that will leave you in laughing out loud for a while. The beginning of the story as you witness Penny with her dying father is something beautiful. In fact, it is so well written into the story I felt I was intruding into personal grieving moments as Penny watched her father slip away.
All the characters you meet in Nicotine are different some unforgettable but maybe there is a little too many. Some of the themes covered may not be to everyone’s taste but Zink brings something to her writing that you may not discover in other modern writers and is not afraid to confront the reader with themes of modern day life. Pleasant or not.
Nell Zink is a talent that should be rejoiced she is unique and fresh and I for one looks forward to seeing what she brings to the literary next.
Thank you to Sam Missingham for the advanced review copy.
Nicotine by Nell Zink is published by 4th Estate Books and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
The Last Word Review
When I finished reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead I knew that I would struggle for days after. A book that not just gets into every pore of your skin but a lot deeper than that, into your very soul. One book I shall remember for a very long time.
Sometimes to understand the current problems of the current world we live in it takes a novel like Colson’s latest in The Underground Railroad for us to understand our past and were we come from. Set in the years before the Civil War and the sheer horror that was the slave trade this is a story that leaves you in a very dark place where you wonder about the world we live in, even in today’s world.
Georgia and a cotton plantation and Cora a young slave woman is having to deal with the fact of the brutality of being a slave she has witnessed pure evil and also the fact her mother abandoned her when she ran away. Now Cora knows that she faces a life of being a slave and as she knows the fate that awaits her. When she approached by another slave and he talks of the underground railroad Cora’s mind is made up. For Cora a teenage slave girl escaping to the unknown is a brave step into the unknown. Cora now has no choice but to run away her life will never be the same as she is now hunted and not just for escaping. When you have the dreaded slave catcher on your trail you have to run and keep running. The underground railroad is your only hope and salvation.
At times this is not an easy read there are some rather difficult themes to deal with and Colson’s imagination that has turned this into a haunting novel. On Cora’s journey she arrives in one town to what seems like a horror movie scene were what can only be seen as genocide is taking place. Both slaves and anyone caught helping them left hanging from trees as a message to those who think of doing similar and also stench of burning flesh fills the air. The story eloquently shifts from one moment on the surface to a land and a railroad and even stations that run underneath it. The underground railroad actually existed but ‘figuratively’ speaking and how Colson has used history to create this underground railroad into a novel that will affect anyone who reads it.
It is not normal for me to feel a sheer emptiness in the pit of my stomach when reading a novel but the more I read the more it became a tight knotted feeling. The Underground Railroad has been receiving some of the highest praise from President Obama to Oprah Winfrey and many more. Is this a book that deserves this praise? Without doubt the praise is well deserved. This is an extremely brave book as Colson has taken history and created a story to attempted to talk to the world that we live in of the horrors of humanity. To this degree it is a brave book but one that I have no doubt when many read this and the message will be passed to others who will then pick up The Underground Railroad and so in hope the message will go far and wide.
At the end I was left bereft of anything, so many questions I wanted to ask but the words would not come. I was left numb and exhausted by Colson’s mix history mixed with story. Reading The Underground Railroad left me feeling I was staring into the darkest of all nights with no hope of any daylight to come. A brave and important book and one that should not be overlooked.
Thank you to Fleet for the advanced review copy.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is published by Fleet and is now available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.